For my fiction workshop class I submitted a short story entitled “Bastogne.” As I’m sure you may be able to infer from the title, the story takes place in Bastogne during World War II. It’s about two American soldiers. It’s about friends. And it’s about loss, regret, and guilt. The class really enjoyed it, which was nice to hear. They had a few minor suggestions, most of which I agreed with. However, one of them I didn’t. The class suggested that I use an exclamation point when people are screaming/yelling etc. But that’s now how I write. I guess it’s more of a stylistic choice, but I think it helps to make the read stronger.
When I write, I always include the tag shouted, yelled, screamed, roared, or a few select others, but I always end the quote with a comma, never an exclamation point. I like to let the context of the situation make the reader “feel” the scream. If I just put an exclamation point at the end then it just tells the reader that someone is yelling. Now, I suppose using the tag “yelled” or “screamed” does the same. But I guess it’s just different for me.
However, some people are extremists when it comes to tags. I’ve heard of writers who will only use “said” with their dialogue tag no matter what. They say that “said” is so common that most readers see it sort of like a period and it helps makes things smoother. I agree with this to a certain degree, but I think it depends on the situation in the story. But I do have a very limited selection of words I will use.
Words I use in dialogue tags:
- Lied (Although this one I almost never use)
Words I refuse to use in dialogue tags
- Anything ending in -ly
- “he said fervently”
- “She said softly/quietly”
- Any obnoxious synonyms for yelled
I’m sure you get the point. Having clean dialogue tags makes things that much smoother for the reader. Similar with adverbs. As Stephen King says, “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.” I absolutely (Irony, ha!) refuse to use them anymore. I’d much rather show how someone is is quietly walking than just saying he or she is quietly walking. For example: “He crept across the courtyard.” Or “She walked with silent steps.” The latter example may seem a little more drawn out, but I think it adds a lot to the action.
Do you use exclamation points? What dialogue tags do you use? Which ones do you prefer to read? Do you have any examples of good or bad uses of dialogue tags?